'Picasso had just been showing us serious faces with huge close-set eyes, sort of Mona Lisas with elongated hands, a multiplication of women seated in their dresses with the Afghan hound Kaboul close against the folds of their skirts, women engrossed beneath hats, or bareheaded with eyes and hair in every shape and position; one with a little head, full face and double profile, within her great sombre profile... Their fingers, their breasts, their eyes, their legs, their shoes with their heels and their hair with their ribbons, their sleeves, their lips on all sides, and the formidable weight of their presence and their gaze.
'They are the Dames de Mougins, the queens, the beloved ones, the Jacquelines, all watching us at once with an incomparable serenity' (Hélène Parmelin, Picasso Says..., trans. C. Trollope, London, 1969, p. 29).
Painted on 21 November 1962, Femme au chien appears to be a large and colourful depiction of Pablo Picasso's second wife, Jacqueline Roque, sitting and stroking the Afghan hound that was their companion, Kaboul. This picture, formerly in the collection of the celebrated collector and food entrepreneur Nathan Cummings, displays a number of features that reveal Picasso's passion, both in terms of his personal and his artistic lives, not least the rich palette which is dominated by the lush claret-like backdrop which contrasts so vibrantly with the vivid green of her dress and the lapis-like blue of the armchair in which she is enthroned. These colours form a contrast with the greyish tones of Kaboul's fur.
Femme au chien was painted during a period of great change for Picasso. Several years earlier, he had abandoned his home near Cannes, the Villa La Californie, because of encroaching development. He had then acquired the Château de Vauvenargues, a vast fortress, before finally settling in an airy and spacious villa called Notre-Dame-de-Vie, near Mougins, in 1961, the year of his eightieth birthday and of his marriage to Jacqueline. This would be the home for the couple for the rest of the artist's life and was also the backdrop and possible spur for an incredible explosion of creativity which saw Picasso creating a range of innovative and often vivacious works, revealing an incredible energy on his part. Looking at the surface of Femme au chien, which itself stands almost as tall as the artist himself did, the viewer can see the fruits of this impressive activity: there are streaking, swirling brushstrokes in many of the places that bespeak a great amount of movement on Picasso's part. The energy of their application is accentuated by some of the vivid colours, and also by Picasso's decision to leave some areas of the canvas almost in reserve: this results in a rich array of textures across the surface of the picture, perhaps revealing the artist paying tribute and attention to the developments in Art Informel that had swept through the European avant garde by this time.
As well as looking to the art of his contemporaries, Picasso was clearly looking at his own recent pictures and, more importantly, sculptures. The face of Jacqueline, presented with a form of double profile, recalls Picasso's sculptures made from folded steel during 1961, a medium which he continued to explore in the year that he created Femme au chien.
There is a seigniorial, stately quality to Femme au chien, in part because Jacqueline appears enthroned within her vast armchair and in part because of the presence of the noble hound in the foreground. Picasso appears to have continued the programme that John Richardson pointed out characterised some of his pictures of Jacqueline during their time in Vauvenargues, when he sometimes presented her as a châtelaine in rich greens and reds, a form of heraldic signature that recurs here (see J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline,' pp. 17-48, in Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 20). The rich red in the background of Femme au chien recalls the paintings of Old Masters, which sometimes featured velvet curtains. At the same time, this claret-like colour adds warmth to the nobility of the depiction, a warmth that is underscored by the deliberately comical face of the dog itself, which provides a playful counterpoint to the potential grandeur of this image, this Picasso-esque family portrait.
In Femme au chien, the presence of the titular dog, depicted with such clear affection and humour, provides an insight into life at Notre-Dame-de-Vie. Kaboul played an important part as a companion in Picasso's later life. Indeed, as well as appearing in Picassso's own paintings, the hound featured in a number of iconic photographs of the artist, not least Edward Quinn's intimate shots of the couple at home and David Douglas Duncan's colour image of the Spaniard standing heroically on the steps of his home with the dog beside him. Kaboul had also featured in a string of Picasso's pictures of Jacqueline, for instance one painted at the end of 1961 and completed at the beginning of 1962 which showing them underneath a tree; there were also a small group of smaller, half-length images.
Kaboul was remembered by many of Picasso's visitors, albeit in different ways. His grandson Claude remembered him as a trained guard dog, a ferocious and intimidating creature, while others recalled Kaboul's penchant for biting people's posteriors. Certainly, Kaboul came to characterise some of Picasso's depictions of Jacqueline: his proboscis became fused with Jacqueline's nose in several of his depictions of her from the period, culminating in the famous monumental sculpture of her erected in 1967. This transformation, which may be prefigured by Femme au chien with its prominent nose, recalls the presence of Picasso's first Afghan hound, Kasbek, in his pictures of Dora Maar dating from the Occupation and the run-up to it; back then, the presence of that rare canine resulted in some of the distorted images of Picasso's lover, as he had used these animal forms to tap into Dora's anxiety, and indeed his own wider anxieties at the time.
Kaboul was Picasso's second Afghan hound, and had only joined his menagerie the year before Femme au chien was painted: Jean Leymarie wrote that Kaboul was a gift from him. 'In June 1961, Picasso moved into a farmhouse at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, in Mougins,' he recounted. 'In October, for his eightieth birthday, I gave him an Afghan hound named Kaboul, whose thin muzzle would sometimes be found right next to Jacqueline's pure face' (J. Leymarie, 'Preface', pp. 9-17, in B. Léal, C. Piot & M.L.Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2003, p. 16). Certainly, it is this warmer aspect of Kaboul's presence in Picasso's home that is reflected in Femme au chien. Even the distortions that the artist wreaked on his beloved wife's features were playful in comparison to those he wrought on Dora's.
Picasso was often surrounded by pets and familiars, especially dogs. During the 1940s, two decades before Femme au chien was painted, Picasso's first Afghan hound, Kasbek, had been a source of great interest as the breed was relatively unknown in France. Indeed, in a conversation with Brassaï, who quizzed him about the dog, mentioning that the singer and actress Suzy Solidor had a very long-haired example, Picasso explained that he was exasperated by the interest shown by people in his unusual dog - so much so that he apparently told his chauffeur Marcel, who was often accosted with enquiries, 'Marcel, once and for all, when someone asks you what breed my dog is, tell him it's a - Charente basset hound. That will give them such a shock that they won't ask any more questions' (Picasso, quoted in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, trans. J.M. Todd, Chicago & London, 2002, p. 123). Kasbek was a regular feature in Picasso's studio, and indeed was immortalised in one of Brassaï's photographs, shown alongside such luminaries of the French intelligentsia during the Occupation as Jacques Lacan, Pierre Reverdy, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
The presence of Kaboul at Mougins may have acted as a bridge to the past. Certainly, the dog's presence in Picasso's paintings such as Femme au chien forms a part of a long role played by canines in both Picasso's own works and in those of other artists besides him. Hounds already featured in Picasso's Rose Period pictures, often looking as rangy as the forlorn, emaciated carnival characters whom they escorted; later, they had reappeared through the legacy of Dora's features. During the late 1950s, dogs had also found themselves a point of focus while Picasso created his epic series of reinterpretations of Las Meninas, the masterpiece by his seventeenth-century compatriot, Diego Velasquez. In the foreground of that 1656 picture, held in the Museo del Prado, was a hound, lying on the ground, relatively large in comparison to the little people surrounding it. In Picasso's colourful incarnations of Las Meninas, created 301 years later, the dog takes on a variety of appearances, often comical, in the foreground. Often, it appears to recall Picasso's dachshund rather than a more stately hound.
Picasso may have been looking at other pictures by Velasquez, for instance his portrait of a buffoon formerly identified as Antonio el Inglés, which features a composition loosely echoed by Femme au chien. Also located in the Prado, Velasquez's picture shows a man standing by a dog, emphasising his diminutive stature, a source of fascination in the court which was reflected in several of the pictures by Velasquez and his peers. A more stately contrast is provided by, say, Sir Antony van Dyke's portrait of James Stuart, the Duke of Richmond and Lennox. In that picture, which dates from around 1634-35 and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the elegant form of the dog is designed to complement that of his master. It was doubtless to Van Dyke that the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini was looking when he painted the celebrated, decadent Marchesa Luisa Casati, whom Picasso himself had come to know; looking at Femme au chien, one wonders if this picture is not in fact a form of riposte to Boldini, whose portrait of La Casati may well have been seen by Picasso. Certainly, the position of the dog, albeit inverted, and the warm colours of the background appear as echoes of that earlier picture, which had been shown at the Salon in Paris in 1909. Boldini's portrait of La Casati may convey a sense of her grace, verve and humour; however, Picasso has pushed this further, creating a painting that is filled with fun and with character as well as its glowing colours.
It is a tribute to the importance of this picture that it was owned by the food magnate Nathan Cummings, who was a renowned collector across a range of fields and who possessed key works by artists such as Claude Monet, Edouard Vuillard and Fernand Léger, as well as Picasso. His own esteem for Femme au chien is suggested by the prominence with which it was displayed, even as early as an article in LIFE magazine in 1970, less than a decade after it was completed. There, Cummings was shown sitting with the Picasso, a dominating presence, behind him. Cummings was the founder of Consolidated Foods, a vast company which also had under its umbrella such companies as Electrolux and Wonderbra. Cummings was a prominent philanthropist as well as an important collector, and was responsible for generous gifts to a number of cultural institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago.